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Old 28th July 2008, 02:32 PM   #1
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Join Date: Dec 2004
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Default CITES - An Informal Guide

What is CITES?

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international treaty the purpose of which is to preserve endangered species through control of their trade. There is a CITES web site ( that has a lot of information and links, including a list of member countries. The United States is a signatory, as are many other countries, so check the list to see if your country of origin and/or destination are there.

The treaty itself has no force as law in any country. Enforcement of its terms occurs through laws enacted by the signatory countries to implement the treaty. In the U.S. the most significant of these are the Endangered Species Act, the African Elephant Conservation Act, the Asian Elephant Conservation Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The links are just for reference – you will likely go blind and/or mad trying to read them. Between these three, all of the species listed in CITES are covered, as near as I can tell, and then some, but there are a number of other laws under which the FWS operates, which might be applicable (see for a full listing).

Each signatory country has a CITES managing authority, which in the U.S. is the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The FWS has an Import/Export information page with useful information and links. The national CITES managing authority is the entity responsible for enforcing the implementing laws of a country, and for overseeing the CITES permitting process. The CITES web site has a link to a list of managing authorities for each member country (by the way, the map at this link shows that virtually every country in the world has signed on to the treaty).

CITES Basics

Under CITES, it is prohibited to sell, buy, transport, import, export, re-import, re-export or even possess any plant/animal (or part thereof) covered by the treaty. There are, however, circumstances under which one is excepted from the provisions of the treaty, and objects that are not subject to the treaty, which I will get to in a second. In terms of species covered, as it turns out virtually any animal part that is used in or on an ethnographic edged weapon is covered. Specifically, ivory of any kind – African or Asian elephant, whale, walrus, manatee, etc. – is covered. Rhino horn is covered. Most “exotic” antler material is covered (i.e., basically anything other than white-tail, reindeer and North American elk antler). Virtually anything from any cat other than a house cat, and from any monkey or ape is covered. Many snakes, alligators, turtles & lizards are covered. True horn (like cow or carabao horn) and bone are the areas where there is some leeway, but the issue then becomes proving the horn/bone is not from a listed species. A full list of all covered species, by both common and scientific name, can be found in the CITES Appendices, linked here.

Some examples of prohibited transactions: I buy today a sword with an elephant ivory grip made in 1965, from someone in France. That right there is a prohibited transaction (both I and the seller are liable); it gets shipped from France to me in the U.S. -- a second prohibited transaction (again, both parties liable); I hang the sword up on my wall and keep it for a while -- a third violation (just me liable this time); I bring the sword up to Timonium for the annual EEWRS dinner, which involves transporting it across state lines -- a fourth prohibited act (just me liable, again); I then sell it to a fellow forumite in another state in the U.S. and mail it to him/her -- two more prohibited transactions (both myself and the buyer liable).

There are several classes of items that are exempt from the CITES prohibitions, the most relevant in the “ethnographica”-collecting world being the exemption for items that are over 100 years old, and the exemption for items that were not, and have not been, “in commerce” as of December 28, 1973 (the effective date of the treaty. By "in commerce" it is meant that it has not been sold, or for sale, since that date (if the item has changed hands via sale even once after December 28, 1973, it loses the exemption).
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